Parliament: Questions and Answers – Nov 30

Press Release – Hansard

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No.1—Finance
1.Hon STEVEN JOYCE (National) to the Minister of Finance: Can he confirm he plans to increase net core Crown debt from $59.5 billion as at 30 June 2017 to $67.6 billion by 2022; and can he confirm debt will not increase by any more than that?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): I can confirm that net core Crown debt was $59.48 billion at 30 June 2017, or 22.2 percent of GDP at the time. I can also confirm that the Government plans to reduce net core Crown debt as a percentage of GDP to 20 percent within five years of taking office. I cannot confirm the exact dollar figure for 2022 at this time, as that is part of the normal Budget process, but the figure in the member’s question is our starting point.
Hon Steven Joyce: Given that response, is he concerned at the recorded level of business confidence in the ANZ business survey today, which suggests that there is some confusion about the Government’s position and its economic and fiscal plans, and that perhaps he should move to clarify that quite quickly, given those results?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I have been talking to members of the business community in recent days. I will do so again tomorrow, and then, when we come to release the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update and Budget Policy Statement, we will be providing certainty for the business community and the rest of New Zealand about our plans.
Hon Steven Joyce: Well, in that case, can I suggest he possibly stops talking to the business community, given the results of that survey today?
Mr SPEAKER: Is that a question, or just a passing point? [Interruption] Well, there was no question, no question word.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What members of the business community I think share with me is the enormity of the challenges that that member left me by not putting enough money aside for capital spending, by failing to put money into the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, and overseeing a housing crisis. They want to work with us to solve the challenges he left the Government.
Hon Steven Joyce: Woohoo! Has Treasury now done any costings on any individual policies contained in the Labour Party’s pre-election fiscal plan that shows the actual cost is higher than originally stated in that document?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Treasury has been working on items within the hundred day plan that appear inside the fiscal plan. We’ve already announced the costings around the student allowance and student loan payment increases, which actually come in slightly under what was in the fiscal plan.
Hon Steven Joyce: Just to clarify: is he saying, then, as at today, Treasury has so far, up to today, given him no indication in writing that any policy in this pre-election fiscal plan of the Labour Party will likely cost more than was previously stated?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Treasury are working through the costings for the hundred day plan promises. They have not yet been finalised, as the member knows. When the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update comes out, he will be able to see the detailed results of that work.
Hon Steven Joyce: Can he then confirm that there’s a disagreement amongst Ministers about the design and implementation of the Government’s winter energy payment, as reported by his colleague Stuart Nash at a Wellington Chamber of Commerce breakfast speech this morning?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No, quite the contrary. Minister Nash, myself, Minister Sepuloni, and Minister Martin have been working together collegially. And, interestingly, we’ve been told as we’ve been doing that work that it’s great to see—finally—a group of Ministers who can work together.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the finance Minister whether or not the projections and calculations that he and Treasury are working on are going to be an example of aspiration and wanton optimism, or an example of aptitude, exactitude, and certainty when it comes to running the books?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: They will be all of those elements that Mr Peters has raised—in comparison, I might say, to the previous Government, who decided that they would look like they were paying off debt by making sure they hadn’t put enough aside for the capital spending that was required.
Question No. 2—Conservation
2. MARAMA DAVIDSON (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: What has been the Department of Conservation’s biggest recent success in predator control to better protect our native plants and wildlife?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE (Minister of Conservation): The Department of Conservation (DOC) has recently completed aerial predator control on more than 440,000 hectares of conservation land, including more than 38,000 hectares of Kahurangi National Park, home to whio, great spotted kiwi, kea, kākā, rock ram, and Powelliphanta land snails.
Marama Davidson: Does the department have the resources needed to protect the 4,000 native species that are at risk or threatened with extinction?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: The recent work was a great success, but aerial control has only been able to cover 7 percent of conservation land, because of the funding available under Budget 2016. That has been totally inadequate. We have a biodiversity crisis, but under current funding, the Department of Conservation is only able to do predator control on 16 percent of land and only able actively manage 338 of the 4,000 species that are threatened or at risk of extinction.
Marama Davidson: What will the Minister do to better protect the almost 4,000 currently threatened and at risk indigenous species in New Zealand?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: There are many ways that we can better protect our native wildlife, plants, and habitat. For a start, we’ll be changing the threatened species strategy, because the last Government was unambitious and was only aiming to manage 500 of those species, for instance. We have a commitment to significantly increase conservation funding to better protect our native plants and wildlife.
Hon Maggie Barry: What risks to native plants and wildlife might occur if there was open cast mining at Te Kūhā mine on the Buller Plateau?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: The member should be very aware that until the Minister considers an application for an access agreement, it is not appropriate to comment, to avoid prejudging the decision. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: No. Another question, or another two questions, in fact—seeing as it was the Leader of the House who interjected—to the Opposition.
Marama Davidson: How does DOC’s pest control work help threatened native species?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: Reducing pest numbers over wide areas through aerial pest control allows native species to breed in relative safety, and we’ve seen that in areas like Southland’s Waitutu Forest, where predator control has meant that the kākā population can nest and is now increasing.
Hon Maggie Barry: Does the Minister acknowledge that the use of the aerial compound—it’s distributed aerially—1080 is the only way that we can attain the goal of predator-free New Zealand by 2050, and does New Zealand First cooperate with the Minister’s views?
Clayton Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has got no oversight as to what our position is as a party, and it’s an out-of-line question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think it is within the ministerial responsibility to seek cooperation on controversial issues from all parties in Parliament, and certainly those who form part of the Government. So I think whether or not she has sought that cooperation and any response is, in fact, part of the Minister’s responsibility.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is not to dispute—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Sorry, I’m going to interrupt the member now and say that the two questions just awarded have been taken back for an interjection during a point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: This is not to dispute your ruling in any way, shape, or form, because if it was apposite to the coalition agreement and what we, with Labour, have agreed to do into the future, then I think you would be correct. But if it’s for policy that was not covered by that, then I think that my colleague is right to say that no Minister is therefore responsible for a party’s policy not part of a coalition arrangement.
Mr SPEAKER: I think, in listening to the question, the member—and the member will correct me if I’ve got this wrong. I think the member was asking whether the Minister had sought or had got cooperation from a group of members in this House around a particular policy. Whether or not it is current Government policy or whether it is not the policy of some other area, that reaching out to others to support a particular area of work is the responsibility of a Minister, and asking whether or not she’s done it, I think, is something that is OK as far as this House is concerned. Would the member—so we can all remember what she said—like to repeat her question.
Hon Maggie Barry: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Does the Minister accept that 1080 is essential if we are to attain the predator-free 2050 goal, and does New Zealand First support her views?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: In terms of 1080, it is one of the essential tools in the tool box, and the former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, in her independent report, was very clear about the need to use 1080. There is widespread support in terms of achieving predator-free 2050, and a recognition that we need to increase conservation funding across all three parties in Government.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I’m just going to—would the member sit down, because I’m going to make a slightly unusual ruling now. I was wrong in allowing the question, because I thought it was slightly more complicated than that as to whether the Minister had done anything vis-à-vis New Zealand First. In fact, it was just a straight opinion on another party’s policy, and I want to apologise to the right honourable gentleman. He was right and I was wrong.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That’s very interesting that you have put yourself into a contrite position on this particular issue. But let’s be very clear that when a Minister is in the House saying that she is going to seek extra funding for a predator-control arrangement—in this case, the use of 1080—then that would have to be done through the budgetary cycle. Much as it might be the desire of the coalition to be able to break apart and rely on the Opposition to help them through that, the Budget won’t be one of those things, and it will be New Zealand First’s vote on this particular issue inside a Budget, as part of a coalition, that enables that to happen.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and that could well be true, but the member could also be quite premature on this occasion to be discussing that. They’re not that far in the cycle yet.
Question No. 3—Health
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (National—Northcote): Why did he tell the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists conference’s question and answer (Q & A) session on 23—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I did give members some advice yesterday to try reading the question that’s on the sheet, which is a very, very different question.
3. Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (National—Northcote) to the Minister of Health: What measurable outcomes, if any, will his policies deliver? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I just want members to settle down and remember that quite a few of us have new roles, and I think all of us will make mistakes.
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): Improved health for New Zealanders.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: Why did he tell the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists conference’s Q & A session on 23 November that in three years’ time after Government investment in mental health people are still going to say the system is terrible, our suicide rate is still too high, and our mental health issues are still there?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: One suicide in New Zealand is one suicide too many. We will not get to zero in our first term.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: So is he really saying that after making mental health his top election issue that in three years’ time under his watch people will still say the system is terrible, the suicide rate will still be too high, and mental health issues will still be there?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I can confirm today that we will not neglect the mental health sector like the previous Government, and it will not take nine years to have measurable gains in mental health.
Hon Steven Joyce: Just in reference to the conversation we had at the start of question time today, I noted the Minister referring to the previous Government in his answer. I think, in the context of the conversations we’ve had, it might be, perhaps, preferable that he didn’t do that.
Mr SPEAKER: I’m not going to go that far, and the member wouldn’t like it in the long term.
Dr Liz Craig: So how will the Minister deliver improved outcomes across the health system?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: To deliver improved health outcomes, we need a health sector that is effective and works together to deliver the services New Zealanders expect. That will require building strong relationships across the health sector. These relationships were seriously strained under the previous Government.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: How will he afford his Government’s additional new spending promises, including fixing the mental health system; extra pharmaceutical spending; more affordable dental care; and the Prime Minister’s promise of more funding for palliative care, given that he said his promised $8 billion for health had been “pretty much spent”?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: We will afford them in the same way that previous Government’s did: we will spend money responsibly on behalf of taxpayers to deliver more affordable access to quality care for New Zealanders.
Question No. 4—Corrections
4. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he stand by his Government’s intention to reduce the prison population by 30 percent over the next 15 years; if so, how?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Minister of Corrections: Yes; and by being smarter than the previous Government.
Simon O’Connor: What is his specific target for a prison population reduction over his first term of Government?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: It is not possible to break down a target of over 15 years on a three-year by three-year basis. But what the Minister can commit to as a Government is that it is not going to continue on the current trajectory set under the previous Government, which by 2028 would see a 50 percent increase in our prison population. What is happening now is not working, and it’s going to be better.
Simon O’Connor: Will he rule out the early release of prisoners in order to meet any target they may come up with in three years, one year, 15 years?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: We have seen a rapid increase in the prison population over the last three years alone. If we want to avoid continuing the current trend, which will see a 50 percent increase in the prison population in just 10 years’ time, then we have to do things differently. So we will manage parole, we will manage bail, and we will manage offenders in a smarter way that preserves public safety but actually fixes people who do bad things.
Simon O’Connor: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. While I appreciate that the Minister speaking on behalf of Kelvin Davis has articulated a number of topics, my question was incredibly specific around one particular option, which is the early release of prisoners, and I would appreciate that being at least addressed.
Mr SPEAKER: And I thought that buried in the answer was a response to that.
Simon O’Connor: What is the forecast impact on prison numbers of an additional 1,800 sworn police officers?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: A growth in police numbers will have two particular impacts. One is that it will help to prevent more crime being committed, and so that has the effect of reducing the potential future prison population. The other is that with good community and rural policing, police get closer to their communities and, when people are detained for committing offences, early intervention can prevent them from getting to prison.
Simon O’Connor: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. While again I appreciate the answer, again the question was quite specific around forecasted impacts. And we know from previous policy that there is a forecasted impact and that’s what I’ve asked for, not the generalities given.
Mr SPEAKER: Ask the question again, with no penalty.
Simon O’Connor: What is the forecast impact on prison numbers of an additional 1,800 sworn police officers?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I have received no advice on the forecast impact of 1,800 police officers, but I have received advice on the very positive impact that additional police officers will have on reducing the number of offenders and reducing the number of offenders who wind up in prison.
Simon O’Connor: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If he is using official advice as he’s referenced here, is he prepared to table it, and do we know the font?
Mr SPEAKER: Well, no. Just to make it absolutely clear that the Minister has to be quoting it—and I was watching. Unless the Minister has an incredible memory and he was quoting verbatim a document that he has in the House but wasn’t looking at, there’s no chance of him being currently quoting from an official document.
Question No. 5—Transport
5. KIERAN McANULTY (Junior Whip—Labour) to the Minister of Transport: Has he received any reports commissioned under the previous Government that show the value of investment in rail?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Yes, this report by EY shows the rail network generates $1.5 billion a year in benefits to New Zealand. The biggest gains go to road users who experience less congestion and fewer accidents, thanks to the traffic taken off the road by rail. The report highlights the value of the Government’s plans to invest in rail, both in our cities and in the regions.
Kieran McAnulty: Why is the report being released now?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the Government has released the report this week because it greatly improves public understanding of the value of rail. Our policy is to get the most out of all transport modes, not just one. What’s hard to understand is why the past Government sat on this report for nearly a year. It’s just the latest in many inconvenient facts hidden from the public under that former Government.
Kieran McAnulty: Is it true, as stated in commentary on release of this report, that he has canned the East-West Link and shelved other major and important roading projects?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Actually, no, it’s not. Those comments made by the Hon Judith Collins are incorrect.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. I’m not a transport expert, but that’s not related to this report that the member has had questions asked about.
Hon Judith Collins: Does he agree the value of investment in rail requires the trains to run?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yes.
Hon Judith Collins: What’s his message to the 30,000 rail commuters who have been told that their share of investment in rail won’t work tomorrow because the trains are on strike?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: My message to rail commuters affected by the strike is that they should ask some hard questions of the former Government who put in place—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I don’t think we need to go much further here.
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: No, well, I think the member’s answered the question.
Jenny Marcroft: Will investing in rail assist our regions?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yes. It will mean jobs, it will mean better connections for business in the regions, it will mean safer roads and less pollution. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I’m going to ask all members to sit down and just give a little bit of coaching advice to the people who are asking the questions and possibly for those who are assisting them. It would have been a lot easier on that question if the member had an “if so; why?” on the end, because actually the Minister had answered the question when he said “Yes.”
Jenny Marcroft: What have the consequences been of years of underinvesting in rail?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: It means that the country is missing out on the benefits of rail as highlighted in the report. It means that freight transport is more expensive than it needs to be and businesses who are moving freight around the country have fewer options. A multimodal approach that treats road, rail, and shipping as part of one transport network for the good of this country’s supply chain will benefit both the cities and the regions.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: What insights does he take from this report on the value of investment in rail in Auckland?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Thank you. The report finds that the people who gain most from rail are the road users who experience less congestion. This highlights the wisdom of the Government’s plans to invest in both light rail and heavy rail in Auckland and to give Auckland the tools to help fund that investment. The alternative plan meant doing nothing and leaving Aucklanders sitting in traffic gridlock for 30 years.
Hon Iain Lees-Galloway: What impact has the public transport operating model, also known as PTOM, had on investment in rail and the ability to ensure that the rail runs every day?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The public transport operating framework set up by the former Government has had the effect of driving down wages and conditions in the public transport sector, and it’s little wonder that workers in that industry are collectively bargaining to get better wages and conditions. This Government wants to see world-class public transport in our cities, but not at the expense of the workers who run the system.
Question No. 6—Tourism
6. Hon JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister of Tourism: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister of Tourism: Yes, in the context in which they were made.
Hon Jacqui Dean: When he told the Tourism Industry Association—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! When “he” told.
Hon Jacqui Dean: That’s what I said.
Mr SPEAKER: Sorry, I thought you said “you”. Left ear—sorry. Away you go. I apologise to members. Start again.
Hon Jacqui Dean: Thank you, Mr Speaker. When he told the Tourism Industry Association in a public forum that he was exploring options for a tourist levy, which would include local government funding models, had he had many discussions with local government about it?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I can’t speak for the conversations that the Minister might have had with local government in particular, but I know that the Labour Party component of the Government had a wide range of conversations with the New Zealand public about the matter; it was called a general election campaign.
Hon Jacqui Dean: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was to the Minister of Tourism, not to the Labour Party.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and I think that your question to the Minister was answered in the very first phrase. You got some additional information, which may or may not have been helpful, but the question was certainly answered.
Hon Jacqui Dean: Why is he backtracking from a firm commitment to an international tourist levy to consideration of that as just one of a number of options?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Because a new Government has been formed.
Hon Jacqui Dean: What is his response to Tourism Industry Aotearoa’s statement that a levy on foreign tourists is completely unworkable?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The current Government is considering a range of options to better support the tourism industry, including a levy. I’m sure we’ll receive a range of views on that matter.
Question No. 7—Prime Minister
7. Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her statements?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, in the context in which they were eloquently made.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Given her statements yesterday that “of course some of my staff have been privy” to the 33-page unpublished coalition document, do those staff still hold copies of the document, and are they employed by Ministerial Services?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The Prime Minister was referring to material gleaned by members of her staff in preparation for the coalition agreement. All of that material is not subject to the Official Information Act, because it was—
Hon Steven Joyce: Didn’t answer the question.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I’m getting to it.
Hon Simon Bridges: Hurry it up. You haven’t got all day.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, I have, actually, when you’re around. Can I make it very clear what the Private Minister has said about the matters, which have been the subject of some artificial and constructed controversy. None of that material is official. None of that material is currently part of the eight-page document on the coalition agreement. But there are, obviously, side papers that we are working on in the future, and when that material is known and completed and evaluated and budgeted, it’ll be announced.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a small, pendantic point, but I know how you are on these things. Should the Minister answering for the Prime Minister say “on behalf of the Prime Minister”, or then speak in the third person? It makes a difference in the Hansard.
Mr SPEAKER: I understand that it does, and it has been a matter that another pedant has raised in the past. He’s currently sitting in the Chair, and I think he had a number of rulings that allowed for some flexibility on behalf of the Ministers answering for other Ministers.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, perhaps he could use his better judgment now in his own favour. That would be a good thing. In reference to her statement yesterday that her Minister of Finance holds a copy of the 33-page unpublished coalition document, does she have confidence in him to ensure that he does not circulate that document to other Ministers or Ministerial Services’ employees or contractors or secondees in his office?
Clayton Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just on another pedantic matter, the Minister asked a question referring to the Prime Minister as a “he” with “his”. I think if we’re going to be pedantic we should actually stick to the rules of asking questions.
Mr SPEAKER: Right, no. Let’s—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I’m sorry, Mr Speaker. My apologies. I am just so enamoured of the testosterone power of the current Government, so I do apologise. I should have said “her”. I’ll say it again. In reference to her statement yesterday that her Minister of Finance holds a copy of the 33-page unpublished coalition document, is she confident that he has not circulated the document to any other Minister or to any Ministerial Services employee, contractor, or secondee who might be in his office or other Ministers’ offices?
Mr SPEAKER: Before I ask the Prime Minister to reply, I just want to indicate that I think the first part of the reply should indicate whether in fact the Minister of Finance does hold the document as Minister of Finance, because it will make a difference as to further supplementaries.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: My answers, whilst the questions are sustained, are on behalf of the Prime Minister. I made that very clear on my first answer, and I didn’t think I had to repeat it every time. My answer for the Prime Minister, though, is this: not in his position as the Minister of Finance. That was not what the Prime Minister said yesterday, and no amount of trying to reconstruct the Prime Minister’s words will take away from the fact that she said Mr Robertson was privy to it because he was central to the negotiations for the whole time.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Is the 33-page unpublished coalition document located in any ministerial device or hard drive?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Could the member help me out by giving us a description of what a “ministerial device” is.
Mr SPEAKER: Before the member goes on, we will treat that as a point of order, rather than having questions going the other way. Responding to the point of order, the Hon Gerry Brownlee.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I appreciate that in his very, very long, decades-old career here, the Deputy Prime Minister, acting on behalf of the Prime Minister today, has not been in office that often, or often enough to appreciate what it might be. But it is, essentially—perhaps maybe I should reword the question to make it easier for the gentleman.
Mr SPEAKER: I think if one sort of winds back the sarcasm in it and just asks the question again—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: There’s no sarcasm in a question that asks: is the 33-page unpublished coalition document located in any ministerial communications device, smart phone, or hard drive of any type, or a safe?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: First of all, I’m not answering on behalf of the Prime Minister posing as a male, for the umpteenth time, which was the expression that the member repeated again. The second thing is that if we’re going to take a long attack, I want to tell that member I’ll be around long after he’s gone. And the third thing I want to say is that this was all done before the Government was formed, and that is the only matter you’re entitled to ask about.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Is the 33-page unpublished coalition document currently located in any of the ministerial communication devices, be they handheld or on a hard drive, or in any safe in any ministerial office?
Mr SPEAKER: I’m going to interrupt now because my view is that the location of a non-ministerial document is not something that makes it a ministerial document. For example, I used to keep my personal cheque book in the ministerial safe; that did not make it a ministerial document. I know members kept their lunch in the ministerial fridges, and that did not make them ministerial matters. I’m saying to the member that I’m going to rule his question out—[Interruption] I beg your pardon? Nick Smith will withdraw and apologise.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Mr Speaker, I withdraw and apologise. Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: If the member’s going to—I haven’t finished my ruling yet, but what I was ruling is that I’m going to give the member one last chance, without penalty, to phrase the question in a way that involves ministerial responsibility. As has been shown in a number of jurisdictions, the fact that something personal has passed through a ministerial computer does not make it a ministerial document.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It might be an appropriate ruling for the Ombudsman as to whether a document that’s held on a ministerial phone or document is not necessarily an official document for the purposes of that Act, but I think you are going beyond your role as Speaker in saying that a Minister cannot be asked about any matter that relates to things that are funded for the public purpose, in terms of being in a ministerial office—
Mr SPEAKER: OK. I’m quite satisfied on that, and I think that just about every member of this House—or those who’ve been Ministers—will have received material from family members, from constituents, on their devices, which have been owned by Ministerial Services. That does not make that correspondence ministerial responsibility.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Mr Speaker, thank you for those interesting clarifications. I’ll change tack. Does the Prime Minister stand by her statement “Our office will be investigating how to apply a royalty specifically to water bottlers following advice from trade officials today that such a royalty would be in breach of our current and proposed free-trade agreements.”, and does this mean the unpublished coalition document will now be even shorter, even without further font changes?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The Government’s position is that there are many alternatives to arrive at the kind of result that a royalty would impose upon any taker of water. One could assume that, like every other sovereign nation and every country that sets its own royalties, we’re working precisely on that as we speak.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Does the Prime Minister therefore disagree with the legal team in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who have made it very clear today that applying such a royalty would be a breach of current and future—including this comprehensive Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement—illegal?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The problem with that non-legal interpretation of a witness at a select committee is that the witness said “could”. The witness did not say “would”, and there, if you’ve got any legal training, is a substantial difference.
Question No. 8—Greater Christchurch Regeneration
8. Dr DUNCAN WEBB (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration: What was the expected date, prior to the General Election, that the Residential Advisory Service would cease operations, and what steps has she taken since becoming Minister to ensure the service continues for people affected by the Canterbury and Kaikōura earthquakes?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration): Prior to the general election, the Residential Advisory Service (RAS) was expected to cease operations on 22 December this year. It was clear to me that this wasn’t good enough and that this closure was too soon. RAS is a valuable service to many people navigating the Earthquake Commission and insurance issues. That is why, upon taking office, I sought advice on extending the service and, on Tuesday, announced an additional $700,000 to extend RAS into July next year. This is a Government delivering on its promises.
Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I don’t want to prolong the discussion earlier, but can you see the problem where we have a two-limbed question and the first limb of the question is entirely about the previous Government. We have been told that we’re not allowed to ask about the previous Government, even in a caretaker mode, as I sought to yesterday, and then we have this particular question today.
Mr SPEAKER: And—
Hon Steven Joyce: If I just may, Mr Speaker. I don’t want be pedantic about it, but it would be helpful for the framing of future questions and save all of our time if, perhaps, you could—I don’t know how you want to do it, whether we have a discussion in your offices or whatever, to discuss where this line is, because, quite genuinely, for members of the Opposition, I don’t think we understand where that line is at this point.
Mr SPEAKER: I am certainly willing to meet with members in my office to work it through. This one is, I think, relatively simple because the substance of the question goes to the actions of the Minister. While the Minister is not responsible for what happened before the election, she is responsible for that. Actually, the question could’ve been asked without the first leg, and that may have made it simpler and easier and we wouldn’t have had this fuss, and there might be some advice for backbenchers to get it right, who, I’m sure, are all drafting questions.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table a document that makes it clear that the trade officials advised the select committee that it would not be possible to introduce a tax, or if it was done, it would be in breach of trade agreements.
Mr SPEAKER: Can the member, as is normal, tell us the date and source of the document?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: The original source of the document is, of course, 30 November—today. The material that is in the document is sourced from the transcript of the select committee hearing.
Mr SPEAKER: And it was a public hearing?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It was a public hearing.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. The document may be tabled.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Dr Duncan Webb: How does the Residential Advisory Service help people affected by the earthquakes?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The Residential Advisory Service provides free independent legal and technical assistance to enable people to break deadlocks relating to their insurance difficulties. This has become especially useful for people with complex cases still to be resolved seven years after the initial Canterbury earthquakes. After seven years, it is important for these people to have access to the assistance they need so they can move on with their lives as soon as possible.
Dr Duncan Webb: Why is it important for the Residential Advisory Service—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did catch your eye there. I want to self-report. I did speak inappropriately as the gentleman was giving his question. I throw myself on your mercy, but do acknowledge that I was in breach of your new rules.
Mr SPEAKER: I thought it was a finely tuned thing, and I wasn’t going to pull the member up, so we’ll go back to Dr Webb.
Dr Duncan Webb: Why is it important for the Residential Advisory Service to continue?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Too many people are still waiting to move on with their lives in Canterbury, after being stuck in legal and technical limbo. Putting aside private insurers, the Earthquake Commission (EQC) alone has around 4,000 outstanding claims, with hundreds of remedial claims coming in each month—for example, EQC received 203 remedial requests last month alone. Under the previous Government, these people would have nowhere to go. Come December, under this Government, they will.
Question No. 9—Minister of State Services (Open Government)
9. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Associate Minister of State Services: Does she stand by her statement in Parliament yesterday that this will be “the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had”; if so, how?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of State Services) on behalf of the Associate Minister of State Services: Yes, quite easily.
Brett Hudson: Does she stand by her 29 November refusal to answer an Official Information Act (OIA) request made on 20 November, which sought a list of all reports, briefings, memos, or aide-mémoire that she had received since being sworn in as Associate Minister of State Services, on the basis that the request did not meet the requirement to be “specified with due particularity” as per section 12(2) of the Official Information Act?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes.
Brett Hudson: Was she aware of the Chief Ombudsman’s opinion of 17 February 2012 with respect to an OIA request to the then Minister of Finance for a list of all reports and briefings by title and date received from any Government department since 9 November 2008 in relation to his roles as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, and Minister for Infrastructure that it met the requirement of due particularity, as per section 12(2) of the Official Information Act?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I haven’t seen that particular advice from the Ombudsman. I have seen a range of advice from the Ombudsman—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member has answered the question.
Brett Hudson: How can she be the ministerial standard-bearer for the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had if this is how she responds to Official Information Act requests, ignoring the precedent guidance from the Chief Ombudsman?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I think, as we’ve seen in question time today, the bar was relatively low for the release of official information, under the previous Government. We saw examples of that around KiwiRail, around the Saudi sheep deal, and around all of the other dodgy dealings that they did that they refused to release information on. We won’t be following their standards—the very low standards they set.
Brett Hudson: Will she follow the Ombudsman’s guidance in the future with respect to responses to Official Information Act requests?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Generally, we do follow the Ombudsman’s advice, including the advice under the previous Ombudsman, Beverley Wakem, where she said that ministerial offices had been inappropriately interfering in the release of official information by Government departments under the previous Government.
Question No. 10—Children
10. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Children: Is she committed to implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in full?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Minister for Children): Successive New Zealand Governments have committed to the progressive implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC), in line with the UN committee’s guidance. This Government’s commitments align strongly with the recommendations made by UNCROC: for example, child poverty reduction, investigating historic abuse and violence towards children in State care, and improving housing affordability and standards.
Hon Louise Upston: Does the Minister accept that a child has the right to know their parents, as per article 7 of the convention?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I think it is generally accepted that every human being has the right to know their whakapapa. There are, however, times when, for the protection of the child, it is important that their voice is heard and recognised inside some of the Government procedures and policies.
Hon Louise Upston: Does she agree with article 8 of the convention, which states that parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name, and family relations, as recognised by law, without unlawful interference?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: We do. We recognise, and have strengthened, actually, under Oranga Tamariki, the understanding of how important whakapapa is to all our children—that they know their wider family and whānau, that they know iwi links and any cultural background links that they have.
Hon Louise Upston: Based on her answer, will she then oppose legislation that removes the child’s right to know their parents—in particular, the removal of sanctions in section 70A of the Social Security Act?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: The Government will always consider what is in the best interests of the child, and, more often than not, that is the case to know their full family. But there are times, for the protection of the child or of their remaining parent—for the other parent—that certain information is not recorded.
Hon Louise Upston: Does she not understand, then, that there are exemptions in section 70A already that provide for the protection of the child; and, if she’s going to oppose that legislation on the parent’s right to know their parent, when will she tell the Minister for Social Development?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: Unfortunately, the member may be somewhat misled herself. I am very aware of the exemptions inside the legislation. However, penalising the child’s family by taking away financial support, this Government does not believe is appropriate.
Mr SPEAKER: Just before I ask for another question, can I just say to the honourable Mr Little that having two Ministers answering a question at the same time makes it relatively difficult.
Question No. 11 to Minister
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (National—Tauranga): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It’s in relation to question No. 11, to the Associate Minister of Finance. The Associate Minister of Finance doesn’t have delegations yet. They’re certainly not published. I hesitated about this because I wanted to ensure that delegations didn’t go up. They certainly haven’t as at the time of this question, and so it’s quite clear, under Speakers’ rulings, that this question is out of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I’ve obviously accepted it, and I wouldn’t have accepted it if it was out of order. Can the member refer to the Speakers’ ruling that makes it clear that it’s out of order?
Hon Simon Bridges: Yes, certainly: Speakers’ ruling 161/5. I’ve just checked—I checked throughout the morning. Speakers’ ruling 161/5 makes clear that Associate Ministers cannot be questioned about matters for which they have no formal delegated responsibility. As I’ve made clear, factually, he certainly doesn’t, as I understand it—
Mr SPEAKER: OK, we can solve this pretty easily. Has the Associate Minister of Finance received a delegation letter giving him formal responsibility in this area?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Associate Minister of Finance): Sir, I don’t think the formal delegations have been filed, but I do make the point that the Clerk’s Office accepted the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I was the person who accepted the question, and I do take responsibility for it. I have made a mistake, and therefore we’ll go on to question No. 12.
Hon DAVID PARKER (Associate Minister of Finance): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The mistake being yours, sir, could I suggest that the appropriate way forward would be to ask this question of the Minister of Finance. He being absent, I am in a position to answer on his behalf.
Mr SPEAKER: That might have been the case if we’d had some prior notice of this issue. We could have changed it, but, unfortunately, we haven’t, and it is a very specific question to a specific Minister who does not yet have those delegations. Therefore, I think it is appropriate not to continue with it.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House being the master of its own destiny, I seek leave for the suggestion made by Mr Parker to become a reality in question time today.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for the question to be addressed to the Minister of Finance. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Question No. 12—Local Government
12. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Local Government: What steps will she take to support the local government sector to achieve greater efficiency and control spending?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Minister of Local Government): A step in the right direction. I want to reassure local leaders that I certainly support their ability to make decisions to fund current and future responsibilities in a sustainable way.
Jami-Lee Ross: Does she think it sufficient for Auckland Council’s spending to have increased by 26 percent in the last four years?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: That’s a matter for—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no, sorry. There’s no responsibility on the Minister’s part for the Auckland Council’s rates.
Jami-Lee Ross: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Could the member repeat the question, so I can just check again.
Jami-Lee Ross: Does she think it’s sufficient for Auckland Council spending to have increased by 26 percent in the last four years?
Mr SPEAKER: No, I’m sorry. What the Minister thinks about a matter for which she has no formal responsibility, in this case, is not in order. Have another go.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister of Local Government answered her primary question by talking about efficiency gains in the local government sector. If she hasn’t been thinking about efficiency, then how on earth can she possibly make that statement? It’s not unreasonable—
Mr SPEAKER: It’s adjunct to the Auckland Council, and I will refer the member in a second to the appropriate Speaker’s ruling, which doesn’t come to mind immediately. Speaker’s ruling 161/1: “The Minister is not responsible whatsoever for the operational activities or decision making of a local authority. The Minister can be responsible only for any particular actions he”—or she—”might be taking in relation to the local authority, or Crown decisions on appointments to council-controlled organisations or Crown investment in those organisations. But matters outside that are certainly not the responsibility of the Minister.”, Smith, 2012.
Clayton Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The National Party have run out of supplementary questions. They are now currently at 32.
Mr SPEAKER: The same as yesterday—I’m not going to rely on the member’s counting skills; I’m going to rely on the advice that I am getting, because that is the advice that I trust. It is fair to say that we have been too generous to the National Party on one occasion, and I apologise to the Government for that. But I’m not going to do a running total and I’m not going to have individual members tell me that I’m wrong.
Jami-Lee Ross: What reports has she seen of Auckland Council’s spending having increased by 26 percent in the last four years, and does she think that’s sufficient?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: I’ve seen a number of reports. What I think about local leaders’ decision making on matters that concern them is irrelevant. They are acting within their responsibilities as leaders of their region.
Jami-Lee Ross: If it’s her view that the Auckland Council is acting within their responsibility and they’re efficient, why is her Government hammering Aucklanders with an 11.5c a litre petrol tax when Auckland Council can’t control the spending and the tax will raise less money than the blow-out in the council’s wage bill?
Mr SPEAKER: No, that doesn’t get there either. The member’s asking for an opinion in an area for which I think we’ve pretty clearly established from the Speakers’ rulings that the Minister doesn’t have responsibility to the House for.
Jami-Lee Ross: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I’ve asked the Minister what her steps will be to drive efficiency, and I’ve asked her what reports she’s received about efficiency. She answered that question and I used her own words in my question.
Hon Tracey Martin: May I speak to the point of order, sir?
Mr SPEAKER: No, there is no point of order. It was a ruling from me.
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: The mechanisms that local leaders use to drive efficiencies are matters of their own determination, but can I say this: a regional fuel tax is a far more fair way to apportion cost to vehicle users to reduce congestion than an interim transport levy that levies every household across the region, irrespective of whether or not they have a car.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister, since attaining her job, has she received reports on the Auckland super-city that outlined the following things as part of their history: who set it up in the first place, second that there was—[Interruption] It could be in the reports. That’s what it’s about—to get inside the ambit of the Standing Orders. The second thing is that there was a forecast rate crisis because of the unnecessary demand that will be imposed upon them and they are choking from infrastructure over the last four years—referred to by the previous questioner. Can the Minister confirm that that was in the report?
Mr SPEAKER: The National Party have just lost two supplementaries because of the interjection during that, and it was lucky it was only two.
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: I can confirm I’ve received numerous reports that demonstrate, certainly over the last four years, the previous Government failed to recognise the increasing impact of a housing crisis, which inflated costs for ratepayers, and the ongoing challenge around meeting infrastructure demands in that region.
Paul Eagle: Thanks, Mr Speaker. What action has the Minister taken to respond to funding and finance challenges raised by the sector?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Thank you for the question. This is a key priority for the local government sector, and I am seeking advice and working through a range of options for Cabinet to consider. It’s really important to stress that this Government will work alongside local government towards some real solutions that can make a difference.
Paul Eagle: Supplementary.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I just say to the member that there’s not a requirement in the Parliament to put one’s hand up.
Paul Eagle: I was just being polite. You were ignoring me, and I’m rather large. I’m not the smallest human being.
Mr SPEAKER: The member is pretty hard to miss.
Paul Eagle: Pretty hard—I even wore a tie to get your attention. Does the Minister have a comprehensive assessment of the current state of asset infrastructure across the country?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: The simple answer is that we don’t have enough information about the scale and nature of asset infrastructure across councils to adequately size the scale of the problem. We must do better—we will—than the previous Government, and we will engage with them to face the complex issues around infrastructure needs throughout the country.
Jami-Lee Ross: Does she expect other councils to approach her to provide them with a bailout, given they no longer expect councils to control their own expenditure?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Well, I find that a bit of a challenging question. The regions have felt left out for a long time, but now they’ve got a regional development fund that will make a significant difference.
Jami-Lee Ross: Supplementary.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Supplementary question, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: No. I’ve called Jami-Lee Ross.
Jami-Lee Ross: Has the Minister seen any reports on the history of average increases in local government rates in the past 25 years?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: I’ve received a number of briefings on that matter. What I can say is that in the past nine years, the previous Government struggled, failed, neglected to address the increasing pressures of funding and finance for local government. While they’re doing nothing about it, while they’ve ignored the regions, I’m really pleased that this Government has a regional development fund that will at least send a message: help is on its way.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could the Minister please confirm that she has received reports where the major focus has been on the infrastructural crisis of Auckland and their need to have a Minister of Transport and other Ministers associated with that part of the country that are not just all Brylcreem and no socks?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Absolutely—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I don’t think it was really asking for an answer. Jami-Lee Ross. [Interruption] Two more—[Interruption] Oh, no, it just went again. Sorry.
Jami-Lee Ross: Has the Minister seen any reports that show the highest rates increase across New Zealand in the last 25 years was in 2007, when she was last in that portfolio?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Let’s just start with the past nine years, which were the result of neglecting housing issues in Auckland. That has had a consequent impact on a number of regions, which has left council leaders and mayors trying to meet the increasing challenge of infrastructure costs and the like. It’s important that they hear from this Government—
Hon Simon Bridges: Oh, point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: No.
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: —that we take these issues seriously. They are complex. We will be working with them.
Mr SPEAKER: Now—
Hon Simon Bridges: Well, you haven’t even heard it yet.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I haven’t heard it yet, and if it was that the—I’m just anticipating that it might have been that the Minister hadn’t answered the question. What’s really important is that when one’s making that point of order, one waits until the end of the answer, but the member—no, sit down. The member anticipated correctly. The Minister did not address the question, and she will—I think we might have it repeated so she can hear what it was, and we can do it. But can I say to the member: wait until Ministers are finished before taking those points of order.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the issue—I understand it, as far as it goes, but, of course, you have also made it very clear, and I think rightly, that we shouldn’t have superfluous material. So on that basis, I think there are times when it is—
Mr SPEAKER: But that—the member will resume his seat. That’s not the point of order that the member was raising.
Jami-Lee Ross: Has the Minister seen any reports that show the highest rates increase across New Zealand in the last 25 years was in 2007, when she was last in that portfolio?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: In fact, the highest increase in rates was, significantly, in Auckland, as a result of that Government ignoring the housing crisis.
Mr SPEAKER: No. I’m actually going to ask the Minister to have yet another go. I’m not going to insist on a yes/no answer, but there has to be a response to the question that’s been asked. [Interruption] No, the member doesn’t need to ask it again. We’ve had it twice.
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: No.
Jami-Lee Ross: I have two points of order. Firstly, I seek leave to table a document compiled by the Parliamentary Library for my office, showing average rates increases since 1993, including 2007.
Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that document being tabled? There appears to be no objection. It will be.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Jami-Lee Ross: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In answer to my fourth supplementary about reports she may have received about the history of rates increases, she said she’s received many reports about that. In answer to my subsequent supplementary, which asked about reports regarding 2007, she said, “No.” It simply cannot be the case that she could say yes to one and no to the other.
Mr SPEAKER: No. They are not necessarily inconsistent. The member—I can see there might be a logical problem with it, but it’s not necessarily inconsistent.

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